February 5, 2004

Bench to Ballers: Unsung Heroes Carry Cagers

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With the men’s basketball team (9-8, 4-0 Ivy) on the verge of its best season since 1966 and already sitting atop the Ivy League standings, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding the Red’s starting five. The attention is well-warrented: guards Ka’Ron Barnes and Cody Toppert are lauded for leading the Ancient Eight in scoring, junior center Eric Taylor is tops in field goal percentage, and the forward tandem of sophomore Lenny Collins and junior Gabe Stevenson is averaging a double-double.

But the real secrets to Cornell’s success are exactly that — secrets. The unknown members of the Red’s deep and talented bench are young, fiery, and poised. These anonymous soldiers have stepped up all season, affording head coach Steve Donahue an element of versatility essential to success.

“We’ll play four or five off the bench in some games,” said Donahue. “Against Columbia, we lost Eric Taylor and Ka’Ron was in foul trouble. At Harvard, Eric fouled out. Our subs came in and stepped up and had great games.”

The three biggest contributers from the pine have been sophomore David Lisle, and freshmen Andrew Naeve and Graham Dow who have each played in every game this season. All three average over 10 minutes per game, with Dow at nearly 18 mpg.

The young Canadian has 27 steals so far this season, good enough for fifth in the Ivies. Aside from his defense, Dow has effectively run the Red’s offensive set when giving senior captain Barnes a rest.

“He’s a real point guard. So many teams have good perimeter players; he gives us another ball handler” said Donahue. “He distributes the ball very well. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”

Dow’s quick maturation at the point has allowed Barnes, the main focus of most opposing defenses, to change the looks he gives by switching over to the two guard.

“We’ll have both of them in together and run Ka’Ron off screens, let him move more without the ball,” said Donahue. “It makes him harder to guard and allows him to get some good looks.”

Also integral in Cornell’s series of different lineups is Lisle, a 6-4 210 pounder from Ontario. Lisle is listed as a guard, but his size and increasing repetoire of abilities allow Donahue to move him all around the court.

“David can play four positions for us. I’ll put him at a two or three most nights, but he’s got post skill so I can put him on a smaller four,” said Donahue. “He’s picked up his play; I’ll replace almost anyone with him.”

The Red reserve with the brightest future, however, may be Naeve, an Iowa native with some serious size. At 6-9 and 220 pounds, Naeve has contibuted significantly on the defensive end of the floor, where he consistently alters shots and grabs rebounds, and has improved on his raw talent throughout the season.

“Andrew’s been a pleasant surprise. He’s good with the basketball and is a great defender for us,” said Donahue. “He’s getting better everyday.”

With the meat of Cornell’s Ivy schedule beginning tomorrow with an away game at Brown, the Red’s super subs will have to elevate their play even further. If the past games are any indication, the ball will be in good hands.

“These guys aren’t disappointed they’re not starting, they’re pressing the starters and playing hard all the time. That’s the character we need on this team.”

Archived article by Per Ostman